Valerie Gordon Hunter
Valerie Hunter Gordon
Valerie Hunter Gordon was not born in Chesterfield, but nearby in Baslow; nor did she live here, but she did bring some fame to the town. In 1947 she designed the world’s first disposable nappy using nylon from old wartime parachutes. Awaiting the birth of her third child, she dreaded what she called the ‘awful labour’ of washing, drying and ironing cloth nappies. Surprised to find there was no alternative available, she decided to invent one! The result was the Paddi, which was an adjustable waterproof outer garment, holding a discardable, biodegradable pad made of cellulose wadding covered over with cotton wool. She made the first 400 at her kitchen table with a Singer sewing machine, selling them to friends.
In October 1949 Valerie patented her invention. She came to an agreement with Robinsons of Chesterfield whereby the company would produce them in bulk, starting in 1949. In 1950, Boots agreed to sell Paddi in all their branches and in 1951, the Paddi patent was granted for the US and worldwide.
An article in the Lancet argued disposable nappies helped reduce baby rashes and 72,000 of them sold in 1950 and in 1951, 250,000. By 1960, the number was 6 million. The American company Procter and Gamble began producing the all-in-one Pampers from 1961, which, though not biodegradable, were cheaper. The Paddi entered a slow decline in sales, the last rolling off the assembly line in 1990.
Valerie Hunter Gordon died at her home in Scotland on 16 October 2016.